Bennett says significant differences between Bayit Yehudi, Yesh Atid on haredi enlistment

Bayit Yehudi leader calls on Netanyahu's Likud party to make public its stance on the matter.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Should haredi men refusing a draft to national service be liable to imprisonment? According to Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, his party disagrees significantly with Yesh Atid on this point, presenting an obstacle for proposed legislation to include haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men in the draft.
The question of imprisonment, the enforcement of which would be consistent with all other Jewish men eligible for army service, was a major stumbling block to achieving a consensus in earlier attempts to legislate on the matter as well.
Speaking on haredi radio station Kol Barama Sunday morning, Bennett said that although other details of the new legislation were largely agreed on, Bayit Yehudi remained convinced that threatening yeshiva students with criminal sanctions would not be wise.
“There is at the moment a not-insignificant dispute between us and Yesh Atid on the issue of criminal sanctions,” he said. “We think this [criminal sanctions] would be a mistake, [and] we said this before the elections as well.
“It is simply something that extremists, who aren’t interested in any kind of process, can make use of, and furthermore it has no practical significance,” Bennett said, in a suggestion that there is no will and little possibility of imprisoning hundreds and even thousands of haredi men should they refuse to serve when the law takes effect in four years time.
“I don’t really understand this great desire to see criminal sanctions [imposed],” the Bayit Yehudi leader continued.
“If there is a legal possibility to refrain from this then I don’t think the High Court of Justice can say that criminal sanctions must be incumbent on everyone,” he said, in reference to the principle of equality before the law, which was the reason that the High Court had struck down the previous legislation that provided a framework for yeshiva students to legally defer their military service indefinitely.
Bennett also called on the Likud party to make public its stance on the matter.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not commented on the issue of late, something that haredi MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) upbraided him for in a recent hearing of the Knesset committee currently debating the legislation.
Defense Minister and senior Likud figure Moshe Ya’alon is known to oppose criminal sanctions, and during the last Knesset was a proponent of more moderate measures to increase haredi enlistment to the IDF and civilian service programs.
But Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, who sits on the Knesset special committee reviewing the bill, is firmly in favor of including criminal sanctions in the law, and argues that the legislation will only stand up to legal scrutiny with this provision.
The degree to which the Likud is willing to oppose Yesh Atid on the matter will most likely determine the final terms of the law.
Political sources have told The Jerusalem Post that a form of compromise could be reached between the two opposing sides. In such a compromise, the legislation would become a temporary law using economic – not criminal – sanctions, and if after a designated period of several years those sanctions were deemed not to have been effective, the law would then lapse, requiring new legislation.
The Tal Law – the previous legislative arrangement for haredi yeshiva students – was similar in nature to this proposal.
During the interview, Bennett emphasized that in his opinion, the most important goal of the legislation on haredi enlistment was to integrate ultra-Orthodox men into the work force.
“Someone who is truly learning day and night should continue to learn.
But I don’t think there are 8,000 people every year [who do so],” he said, in reference to the number of haredi men becoming eligible for military service annually.
“It’s clear that when 32 percent of first graders are haredi, which is entirely okay, it’s clear that the Israeli economy will not be able to survive in the long term if a significant portion do not integrate into the work force,” he said. “In the long term, it’s right that they integrate into military service, but it has to be done gradually. It’s important that haredim will be free to work, because the Israeli economy simply won’t be able to survive [otherwise. We can’t have] fewer and fewer people having to bear on their shoulders more and more people.”